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Here’s why the measles vaccine is being offered to some Whatcom residents on Saturday

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Measles vaccines are being offered for free Saturday to those who need it in a part of rural Whatcom County where medical services aren’t as readily available.

The event is in response to the recent measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest.

The measles vaccination clinic at the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center will run 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It’s for children and adults who haven’t received the recommended doses of the vaccine.

The center is at 8251 Kendall Road, near Kendall.

The Whatcom County Health Department and PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center are offering the clinic.

“This area of Whatcom County is under-served in terms of access to medical providers, and we’ve heard it can be hard for people to get to a clinic, especially during the work week,” said Cindy Hollinsworth, communicable disease manager for the Whatcom County Health Department, in a news release.

“Bringing a vaccination clinic to this community location on a Saturday means we can help eliminate that challenge, which is important in light of the recent measles outbreak in Washington state,” Hollinsworth added.

The Whatcom County Health Department could offer another measles clinic late in summer and before school starts, Hollinsworth said.

Earlier this week, public health officials declared that the measles outbreak centered in southwest Washington state, in Clark County, was over. A total of 71 people, all but one in Clark County, were sickened in the outbreak that began Jan. 3.

No one in Whatcom County was sickened as part of the outbreak, which hasn’t been the only one in 2019.

There have been nine outbreaks — in New Jersey, New York state, Michigan, California, Maryland and Georgia — and, combined with other reported measles cases, constituted the highest number of measles illnesses in 25 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There also has been a measles outbreak to the north of Whatcom County in British Columbia.

For those reasons, the Saturday clinic is still needed, according to Hollinsworth.

“The Clark County outbreak is officially over, but there continues to be new cases of measles — 704 cases this year in 22 states — across the U.S. and even more cases internationally,” Hollinsworth told The Bellingham Herald.

“Even closer geographically than Clark County, nearby British Columbia has reported at least 26 cases of measles since the beginning of 2019. Every year, unvaccinated travelers — Americans or foreign visitors — get measles while they are in other countries and bring it into the United States,” she added. “We are only one trip away from an outbreak locally.

“If vaccine coverage drops, we could get to an endemic, which is a constant presence of disease in an area,” Hollinsworth explained. “This can happen when people don’t get vaccinated on time, so we are hosting this clinic in rural Whatcom County to provide access to the MMR vaccine.”

The vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

It is covered by medical insurance. If you don’t have insurance, the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Foundation has provided money to cover the cost of the vaccine.

“Measles, mumps and rubella are viral diseases that can have serious consequences,” said Dr. Lessli Putney, a pediatrician and section lead for PeaceHealth Medical Group Pediatrics in Bellingham. “Staying up-to-date on immunizations ensures we can keep ourselves, our family, friends, coworkers and neighbors healthy.”

Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the U.S. and it can spread. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your community with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Do I need to get vaccinated?

Here’s what the Whatcom County Health Department advises:

Adults

You should get at least one dose if you don’t have evidence that you’ve been immunized. Evidence includes at least one of the following:

Written records.

Laboratory evidence.

Laboratory confirmation of having had measles previously.

Birth before 1957.

Children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all children get two doses. The first dose should be at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second when children are 4 through 6 years old.

Students after high school

If you’re in an educational institution after high school and don’t have evidence that you’ve been immunized, you need two doses at least 28 days apart.

International travelers

The vaccine is recommended for people 6 months and older who plan to travel internationally.

Learn more at cdc.gov/measles

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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